I wrote about generations and adultism last month, and drew a response from a dear colleague who challenged me. He suggested generations are important, and needed. I’m afraid they aren’t, at all.
I think that the very invention of generations as a social analysis tool was off-based to begin with.
Generational generalisms seem to have been constructed as an anti-dialogical response to the evolutionary nature of society. And it’s the non-transactional nature of this analysis that I reject most thoroughly: By postulating that populations are distinct and unique of themselves according to their birth to death ranges, sociologists remove them from the intergenerational nature of social life, which routinely blends and interacts individuals beyond people their own age in a variety of social, educational, cultural, governmental, militaristic, and other venues. These in turn define social categorization, along with the economic functioning of society, in ways that really have nothing to do with generations. All that is to say that two hundred years ago generations were not definable in the ways they are now.
The supposed relevance of generations relies on an American model of social development, one that we’re collectively watching get town asunder today. Identifying people according to their birth and death ranges requires that those are distinguishable. In the way that calling generations “extinct” allows for them to exist in the first place, I will grant that they may have been relevant for the 100 years of global domination American imperialism enjoyed. The American mode of economy, family, and social structure necessitated a particular kind of distinctiveness among so-called generations in order to market to them more effectively; commercialism and consumerism make generations necessary. Minus the American market-based dominance over the world, generations are largely irrelevant.
What I have witnessed through studying history is that the convenient pinching together on the sides of differentiation effectively pummels young people to the bottom of the social ladder by disallowing their active congregation with adults. Schools, youth programs, youth marketing… all these are a type of age ghetto-ization/segregation that generations only perpetuates. Generations further necessitate age discrimination by making generalizations okay and intergenerational relationships taboo. We cannot afford this kind of age segregation and youth alienation anymore.
Unfortunately, generations are being used as a crowbar in our sociology- and education-oriented work. I constantly am made aware that people are using generations to justify their own ignorance, and for that alone we must abolish any use of these terms from our work.
I’m afraid we’re not taking any steps forward through defining, perpetuating, or expanding generational-oriented analysis; I simply have not seen or heard any good come of it. Worst still, I have only seen bad.
I would love to hear what you think.
CommonAction staff is available to train on Ending Generationalism and much more. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (360)489-9680.